How to Become a Therapist

LearnHowToBecome Team
Michelle Honeyager
October 13, 2021

Therapists are licensed to help patients cope with mental illnesses or other emotional difficulties. They offer a non-judgmental ear, complete evaluations, and prescribe non-pharmaceutical treatments. Because of these job responsibilities, empathetic individuals who want to help others often succeed as therapists.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), therapists earn roughly $62,000 on average.

Becoming a therapist takes at least eight years. Therapists need to earn bachelor's and master's degrees and complete clinical hours before becoming licensed. Read on to learn how to become a therapist.

What Does a Therapist Do?

Therapist Career Basics

What is a therapist? Therapists work with clients one-on-one basis or in group settings. Certain therapists help individuals enhance their relationships with family members or partners, while others focus on helping people overcome addictions or mental illness.

Therapists typically work full time, although they may work part-time in some cases. A common place for therapists to find employment is within a hospital or private practice setting. These professionals can also work for themselves and set their own schedules by cultivating their client base.

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Steps to Becoming a Therapist

Step 1
Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Earning a bachelor's degree in a therapy-related field is the first step to becoming a therapist. You should only consider schools that hold regional accreditation, as other schools offering master's degrees do not accept bachelor's degrees from unaccredited schools.

When pursuing your bachelor's, consider programs such as psychology, sociology, or counseling that teach you how to be a therapist. Earning a bachelor's degree can cost up to $150,000 if you attend a private program out of state. However, you can attend a cheaper public, in-state program.

Step 2
Complete Relevant Training during your Master's Program

Some states allow students with a bachelor's in therapy to practice under a licensed therapist. This way, you can receive on-the-job training that teaches you how to be a therapist while working toward your master's degree.

Step 3
Complete Supervised Clinical Work

To practice without supervision in any state, future therapists must complete 2,000 to 4,000 supervised clinical hours. During your clinical studies, you may apply your new knowledge in a real-world setting with actual clients.

Step 4
Apply for Licensure

Getting your license is the final step to becoming a therapist. Each state sets its own requirements for licensure, and schools typically align their curriculum to one specific state's requirement. Before taking the licensing exam, you must complete approximately two years of supervised experience.

Therapist Salaries and Job Growth

State

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and Projections Central, a U.S. Department of Labor-sponsored website.

Top 10 States With the Highest Job Growth

  1. Utah: 53.8%
  2. Maryland: 33.7%
  3. South Dakota: 33.3%
  4. Colorado: 30.2%
  5. Georgia: 27.8%
  6. New York: 27.5%
  7. Indiana: 26.3%
  8. Arkansas: 25%
  9. Washington: 23.3%
  10. Virginia: 22.2%

Career Paths for Therapists

As a school and career counselor, you'll most likely need to get a master's degree. You'll help students develop the academic skills needed to succeed after high school graduation. They also help them deal with emotional difficulties. School therapists who work in the public school system often benefit from paid summers off.

A psychologist who obtains their doctorate can take on a research role for clients as they observe their cognitive, emotional, and social processes. Just like therapists, they keep detailed records on behalf of their clients.

These professionals provide treatment specifically to adults and adolescents suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction. They also help both adults and children with mental or behavioral problems. In most positions as a substance abuse, behavioral health, or mental health therapist, you'll only need a bachelor's degree.

Marriage and family therapists help their clients heal or cope with relationship issues. They often work with more than one client at a time. To become a marriage and family therapist, you'll need to get your master's degree.

Courses in Therapy Programs

Course What you'll do
Ethics
  • Navigate questionable situations with integrity
  • Read case studies, evaluate possible actions, and predict outcomes
Relationship psychology
  • Examine the social theories that guide communication between spouses, siblings, friends, and coworkers
  • Learn how to help patients overcome or accept strained relationships
Cultural-diversity psychology
  • Learn the social traditions and customs that shape human interaction
  • Discover how to mediate problems that can arise from cultural differences
Clinical psychology
  • Learn how to assess and diagnose patients
  • Covers various mental illnesses and how they take effect
Substance abuse therapy
  • Learn how to help individuals overcome drug addiction
  • Covers the similarities and differences between forms of addiction, including alcohol and gambling addictions

Components of a Successful Therapy Career

Succeeding as a therapist requires a variety of skills, traits, and tools.

Skills

One hard skill therapists must possess includes record-keeping, as they must take detailed notes in a particular format for each patient. Therapists must also know the names of mental illnesses and treatments.

Online therapists need technical skills, as they rely on computer software to video chat with clients. Therapists often use software to automate activities in their business. For example, certain software can allow patients to book their own appointments and pay their bills online.

Traits

Good therapists are empathetic, active listeners with communication and analytical skills. These skills allow therapists to interact with patients effectively and make proper recommendations.

Tools

Some therapists take notes during a client session with pen and paper. However, they must transcribe these notes to a digital platform to protect patient information. Therapists must also learn how to back up their patient notes to prevent data loss.

Private practice therapists may need additional skills. Since these professionals run small businesses, they must understand basic accounting and marketing to ensure their business succeeds. Self-employed therapists can also hire employees or contract workers to complete these tasks so they can focus on their practice.

Resources for Therapists

American Mental Health Counselors Association

The AMHCA offers career guidance for professionals in the therapy field. Members can attend webinars, access an exclusive job board, and subscribe to the Journal of Mental Health Counseling. This organization also hosts an annual conference where therapists and counselors can share expertise.

Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development

This organization brings together professionals who work in multicultural counseling professions. Entry-level professionals who join this organization can benefit from one-on-one mentorship with seasoned professionals.

International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors

As a division of the American Counseling Association, the IAMFC helps therapists obtain professional training. The association also publishes an international scholarly journal focusing on family counseling.

National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors

The NAADAC empowers substance abuse counselors with knowledge. Therapists can earn certification through NAADAC and participate in online training. Members benefit from an exclusive career center with job postings. The association also connects its members with affordable professional liability insurance.

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Michelle Honeyager
Contributing Writer

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